Something about this week’s episode has really gotten to me. I guess I’m just madly in love with the melodies of Francis Poulenc, and as a result, increasingly in love with the artistry of Pierre Bernac. These two formed an artistic partnership similar in intensity to that shared by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, except that in the case of the Gallic couple, this alliance did not include a romantic element. In spite of that, the pair achieved an artistic intimacy that is sometimes almost painfully honest. Maybe it’s that part of their story that so moves me: that two gay men, neither one sexually involved with the other, still achieved, on an altogether different plane, the deepest kind of intimacy. This episode features performances of the duo in melodies by Poulenc set to texts by Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Éluard and Louise de Vilmorin, as well as songs by Chabrier, Debussy, Chausson, and Samuel Barber. We also hear Bernac performing Bach and Schumann in collaboration with Robert Casadesus, Charles Munch, and Roger Désormière; and Poulenc accompanying singers Denise Duval, Hugues Cuénod, Geneviève Touraine, and Bernard Kruysen in both live and studio recordings. The episode features extensive discussion, mostly from Bernac’s book on Poulenc and his songs, of Poulenc’s devotion to poetry and his very particular compositional method of getting to the heart of a poem.
Today I celebrate the life and artistry of Bernard Kruysen (1933-2000), the Dutch singer whose voice exemplified that now nearly extinct vocal category, the baryton martin. I discuss just what constitutes a baryton martin and why in his prime Kruysen such was an ideal representative. I also discuss the larger question of the performance of the French art song, the mélodie, and why Kruysen was also exceptional in this regard, using as an example his 1960s recorded performances of three complete song cycles by Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré, and Francis Poulenc. I also feature the artist singing art songs by Schumann and Mussorgsky and works by Bach, Quirinus van Blankenburg, and Jan Mul. The episode also includes tributes to recently departed artists Karan Armstrong (singing Korngold and Menotti) and Carlisle Floyd (in performances of his work by Mary Mills and Norman Treigle).
Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available.